Choosing the right doctor is one of the most important decisions people can make for their health. If you are unsure who to turn to for your general care, experts point out that internal medicine specialists, or internists, specialize in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a broad spectrum of illnesses that affect adults throughout their lives, making them the right choice for many adults.
Before selecting an internal medicine doctor, it’s helpful to learn a little bit more about their training and specialties. Trained to care for adults, many general internal medicine doctors, or general internists, practice in an office-based setting as primary care physicians for adults, following patients from their teens through their senior years for ongoing medical care. Other general internists spend the majority of their time caring for hospitalized patients in the role of a hospitalist.
Due to the broad, intensive nature of core internal medicine training, which requires a three-year residency program after graduating from medical school, general internists aren’t limited to one type of medical problem or organ system, making them especially well-qualified to care for patients with complex conditions or multi-system diseases.
“Comprehensive education and training make the internist particularly suited to care for the whole person,” says American College of Physicians (ACP) President Dr. Robert M. McLean. “Many patients appreciate the tailored prevention and treatment plans that internists can provide. From the internist’s perspective, we value long-term relationships with patients and working closely with them to provide compassionate, quality care.”
While training of general internists does not include pediatrics, obstetrics, or major surgery, patients requiring those services can turn to their general internist for recommendations and referrals.
Internal medicine is a wide-ranging field, as many subspecialty areas of medicine require internal medicine training as a foundation, including allergists and immunologists, cardiologists, critical care doctors, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, geriatricians, hematologists, hepatologists, infectious disease doctors, nephrologists, oncologists, pulmonologists, rheumatologists, and sleep medicine physicians.
Training to become an internal medicine subspecialist is both broad and deep, and includes a three-year residency program plus one to three years of fellowship training, depending on the subspecialty. General internists even receive some training in each internal medicine subspecialty during their three-year residency program.
To learn more about internal medicine, visit acponline.org, the website of ACP, a membership organization representing internal medicine doctors, and the largest medical specialty organization in the U.S.
“With such in-depth training in the complete care of adults, internal medicine specialists and subspecialists are excellent choices to help patients navigate the increasingly complex world of medical care,” says Dr. McLean, a rheumatologist. “Whether you are healthy or have a chronic illness such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease, an internist can provide comprehensive, coordinated care.”